By Helpful Herbert.
Harry’s Place has since Boris’ election in 2008 highlighted both the shadowy goings on under the last mayor Ken Livingstone (Lee Jasper, Lutfur Rahman, that sort of thing) and the perhaps more amusing but slightly sinister arrangement between the Tory inner circle and the ever opportunistic and miasma-like Spiked-Online/RCP set up. A neat summary of the latter is located here and for those of you yet to have the particular pleasure of a run-in with them, then you could do worse than to read through Jenny Turner’s thorough evisceration in the London Review of Books recently (warning: may ruin your Sunday).
In particular it was the choice of RCP guru Frank Furedi’s former student and eager scribe/panellist Munira Mirza to the post of Boris Johnson’s cultural adviser which was the focus of such head-scratching. Mirza’s appointment was greeted with some hurrah in the Tory press, the Times claiming her view that “racism in the UK is generally exaggerated” would play well with the new administration’s policies on community relations while also representing “an attempt to neutralise any accusations that Johnson is racist”.
Even the right-leaning Social Affairs Unit was able to join the dots and question the whole thing. Unfortunately, more rigorous scrutiny of her lack of qualifications for the post or questionable off-the-peg contrarian attitudes towards community cohesion were lost among the press’ (understandable) concentration on her private life. Not for the first time probably, Tory gang bangs were ultimately of more interest to the reading public than Brendan O’Neill and Claire Fox.
The choice of mayoral adviser picks is probably the only executive responsibility where the individual elected to the post of mayor can make their mark on London government without any reference to, or hindering from, laws, policies or civil servant advice. Equally it is these individuals, quite often plucked from outside the frontline ranks of politics from think tanks and back rooms, who have the ability for that individual to implement his or her policies or do their bidding as a result of policy knowledge and ability to not only navigate but steer the bureaucracy while their master is engaged elsewhere.
For such an obscure function, it is comparatively well understood by media and public alike, as shown by the controversy generated under both individuals elected to the post since 2000, be it the grant-bending antics of race and policing adviser Lee Jasper and the control freakery of the late lamented Redmond O’Neill under Ken Livingstone, or the steady march of disgraced advisers and deputy mayors forced out of City Hall under Boris Johnson. GLA Advisers, perhaps unusually compared to other major cities it seems, have the ability to either make or break a mayoralty.
After a turbulent first few years of the Johnson mayoralty, the revolving door of departing advisers at City Hall eventually ceased spinning and Mirza has largely been left to quietly get on with the job. Most recently she has been spotted in the pages of Prospect magazine, again disparaging the apparently living, breathing straw man of ‘multiculturalism’ with as much singular aplomb as got her noticed by the mayor and his minions back when she was churning out op-ed features and appearing on obscure panel discussions on behalf of her RCP/Spiked-Online paymasters. The local government editor of ConservativeHome was delighted, naturally.
But, what’s this? Tucked away in the line up programme for the mayor’s annual ‘Story of London’ festival (a Mirza brainchild) alongside a fairly impressive stellar array of celebrities (Billy Bragg), commentators (Peter York) and practitioner experts (Sir Terry Farrell), in its ‘Future of Cities’ debates are not one but three familiar RCP alumni looking somewhat out of place: Austin Williams of obscure online think tank the Future Cities Project, recent PhD candidate James Heartfield and Professor James Woudhuysen of Leicester De Montford University. You would have thought she’d have been a little less obvious about it.
In the past it was the Socialist Workers’ Party who you’d associate with self-declared Marxist ex-poly lecturers, obscure journal editors and PhD candidates on platforms at major conferences, but these days it appears that even Conservative run global cities have a place for them. Perhaps this is the ‘progress’ we hear so much about from David Cameron, though he’ll have to cut down on the risk aversion before Furedi and friends fully take him to their hearts. I’ve not checked yet but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see other familiar names on the Conservative Party conference fringe this week. I seem to recall the RCP had some interesting ideas about cutting NHS spending in the 1980s.